Saturday, April 21, 2012

Why do we love the NFL draft?

   The human chess match that is the NFL draft has hypnotized Cleveland fans into a state of goggle-eyed wonder. GM Tom Heckert certainly did his best Garry Kasparov impression in a Thursday press conference, avoiding specifics as nimbly as the world's best chess player moved his pieces around against that giant computer some years ago.

Who will the Browns take at No. 4? It seems like Trent Richardson's the man but Heckert isn't saying. If you believe Browns' brass, the team is interested in taking project QB Ryan Tannehill, too, perhaps nabbing my sainted mother with the 22nd selection. Who knows? All the answers are tucked behind Heckert's Vincent D'Onofrio-looking face.

The minutiae of Cleveland's draft plans are fascinating to some fans much as Kasparov vs. Deep Blue must have enthralled millions of chess enthusiasts. Personally, I don't find chess all that interesting. Still, I'd rather watch a monkey play checkers against a Commodore 64 than listen to another minute of this draft talk. What is now a ratings-grabbing, three-day spectacle bores me to death.

  The biggest reason for that derision is that the Browns have had the opportunity to pick in the top ten a total of nine times since 1999 (they traded out of the top ten in 2009 and 2011). The joke goes that the NFL draft is Cleveland's Super Bowl, but the coverage and attention it gets from fans and media is hardly funny. Browns' backers usually start talking draft in November when it's mathematically evident that, yes, the team won't be making the playoffs this year, either.

That means five months of dissecting exactly what the Browns need to reach the Holy Grail of 8-8 within the next three years. Draft talk essentially overshadows everything else this town has going sports-wise. Folks may be excited about the promise of Kyrie Irving and were pretty ticked at the Indians for not getting an impact bat in the off-season, but that talk usually circles back around to sizzling topics like Mo Claiborne's 40- time and what Mike Holmgren will have for breakfast on the day of the draft (Wheat germ and two raw eggs, shells included, according to unconfirmed reports).

Of course, the NFL is at its unprecedented height of popularity. As reported by, the draft drew 42 million viewers for the three days of coverage last year. (If you're wondering, Buffalo was tops in TV ratings, while the Cleveland-Akron market finished fourth.)

It's not impossible to understand the appeal of the NFL draft for a fanbase that loves its football. The draft symbolizes hope - the dream that this will be the year we get a difference-making impact player, one picked by a smart management team ready to build the team into respectability and beyond.

Aren't we tired of merely hoping, though? The boatful of busts over the years is what keeps putting us in this position, but Cleveland seems not to mind its yearly serving of horse manure and shame if that means we get more exciting draft talk in the bargain. People hate bad football, yet they love the draft...that right there is the bit of cruel irony that does my head in.

So, Heckert can spend the next week mincing words and putting up smoke screens and whatever else Browns' management thinks will put other teams off their scent before D-Day. Just don't ask me to listen, or watch the "excitement" unfold come April 26.